Album Review: Gost – Possessor

Possessor isn’t a synthwave album. Possessor isn’t a metal album. In many cases, it’s barely even music. And it’s all the better for it. Possessor is the work of a person who’s lost interest in organizing sounds according to established formulas and expectations and has instead designed a listening experience rooted in sensation over convention. Gost has disregarded notions of genre and allowed himself to move into new, experimental ideas, and listeners should too. For those interested in hearing it, the album offers a meaty variety of music, both across the tracklist and within individual songs, making it the most detailed, surprising, and exciting recording Gost has produced to date.

Possessor may have several recognizable genre elements in it, though the highly evolved forms of each and the use of harsh noise to fuse them together demand listeners approach it from a non-traditional perspective. Forcing the album into old music categories or expecting it to cater to customary listening logic is futile. It’s true that Gost has played a prominent role in synthwave music, first with retro synth EPs like The Night Prowler and Nocturnal Shift, then with significantly harsher darksynth creations on Behemoth and Non Paradisi, though he has once again distanced himself from his own discography by delving into a more radical form of audio art. The value of the experiment is largely dependent on the listener’s willingness to accept what is offered, though the significance of Possessor within the landscape of electronic music in 2018 is unequivocal; love it or hate it, there’s no getting around it, and its misshapen form will cast a shadow over the world of synthwave music for years to come, serving as a constant reminder of Gost’s conspicuous departure.

In terms of style, Possessor contains no traces of the history of heavy metal and holds no common ground with the origins of synthwave, and it therefore falls far outside those genres. However, if genre comparisons need to be made, and they do in order to appreciate the uniqueness of Possessor, then Gost’s newest creation feels like a pastiche of the blackened, industrial-minded creations of Anaal Nathrakh, the harshilized aggrotech of Alien Vampires, and the horror synth of Gost’s past darksynth efforts, each carefully aligned alongside one another and then mangled with the deconstructive surgery of true industrial noise like Facialmess. The result is a purposeful abomination that has earned the right to be called unclassifiable, and it would be a disservice to label it otherwise.

The fact that Gost frequently offers non-traditional music ideas means that listeners must let go of traditional listening methods. Possessor is not a representational portrait; it is an abstract, expressive attack on an audial canvas using whichever tools the artist finds most suitable in the moment. The album’s value is in the experience of its textures and effects, not its depiction of familiar experiences with harmonized sound. Those willing to roll with the destabilizing percussive blasts, fall into the boiling synth melodies, and disintegrate in the white noise will find something they could never get from the clean melodies and carefully orchestrated rhythm patterns of time-honored Western music.

This is not a recording to relax with after work or put on in the background of a social gathering. It’s noisy. It’s abrasive. It’s flippant, and deliberately so. It’s an album to engage at high volume in isolation or with select friends, and it will mostly appeal to those with a taste for tumultuous sounds.

Despite Possessor’s commendable experimentation, it steps off on the wrong foot with the title track, which features audio clips of stuffy suburbanites talking in overly serious tones about Satan and exorcisms. These voices of newscasters and deluded practitioners of supernatural rites represent a middle-schooler’s conception of Satanism, and Gost’s apparent attempt to spook the listener with them feels cartoonish and even comical, particularly within the context of his artful and serious-minded music mutilations. Although the clips make it easy to disregard the album before it even begins, the music itself turns out to be much more worthwhile.

“Garruth” rips open the recording with a satisfying vocal roar and jackhammer blast beats. The apparent genre leap is soon balanced with a clear, steady beat and synthesizer melodies that will feel familiar to fans of recent Gost releases. But just as the ears grow accustomed to the rhythm, Gost tips the scales back into sledgehammer percussion, over-the-top distortion, and shrieking vocals, rattling out a final blast beat before breaking off into silence. The shortness of the track ensures that each section remains singular, free from monotony and repetition, and the deliberately disjointed mashup of malformed darksynth with caricatured extreme metal creates a jagged, angular composition. As a standalone piece, it’s an odd and potentially ham-fisted effort, though ensuing tracks retroactively validate its abstract arrangement.

“Prowler” follows next, serving up bass tones that ripple like the air above hot blacktop. After a head fake toward comprehensible melodies, Gost begins piling on glitchy electronic data that bubbles with cheerful indifference to its own leprosy. The song straightens once again into a coherent section with attractive melodies as a reprieve from the dense distortion, though the digital plague continues to fester, occasionally blistering the music with its corrupted audio information. It’s one of the most exciting and unexpected entries on the recording, and the exactness of the composition and the balance of its components lends legitimacy to the chaos of “Garruth,” making it clear that Possessor is not simply a collection of sounds mashed together. It’s a cocktail of vodka and automotive oil with a woodscrew in it not by chance, but because Gost planned it that way.

The third song, “Sigil,” miraculously redirects toward gothic rock and darkwave with a straightforward pop structure and a handsome vocal performance by none other than Gost himself. Accented by a steely bassline, bright melodies, and a moribund throb that lurks far below the surface, “Sigil” is a faultless creation echoing vintage efforts from cult acts like Sisters of Mercy. As far as traditional songwriting goes, it’s the most melodic and satisfying piece to grace a Gost album to date, though it would be almost impossible to attribute it to him in a blind taste test. In contrast with the more experimental entries on Possessor, the old school darkwave approach to “Sigil” hits the ears like the sweet spot on an analog radio dial, coming through with complete clarity before dissolving back into static.

Possessor’s unpredictable songwriting suddenly goes flat with “Loudas Deceit,” a repetitive piece that wastes its first two thirds on generically spooky songwriting that feels like Gost offering a plain wheat thin to accompany his toxic cocktail. Even worse, more clips of strait-laced folks discussing exorcisms arrive to finish the track. Barbara Walters sounds like she might be genuinely frightened of pot smoke, so it’s unclear how her apprehension about “the devil” should be meaningful to anyone willing to listen to Possessor.

Fortunately, things recover quickly, first with a second venture into blast beats and hyper-evolved elements of extreme metal on “Beliar,” then with one of the album’s noisiest affairs on “Legion.” Although Gost toys with the idea of harsh noise prior to the track, “Legion” is the first full venture into audio corruption. It opens with crusty bass tones that sound like they’re coming through an amplifier that’s been burned, crushed, and submerged in boiling oil, then revived Frankenstein-style with the channeled energy of a lightning strike. A loud, tearing effect arrives alongside fiercely distorted, shrieking vocals for an immersive din. The piece soon breaks into a galloping drum rhythm with claustrophobic and indeterminate noise closing in on all sides.

The track benefits significantly from high volume, and the crowded sensation of the audio creates a much greater emotional response than Gost’s voice clips about haunted houses, which he depressingly injects into the final moments of “Legion,” spoiling the song’s equilibrium and abruptly pulling the listener back into the mundane world. It’s like a phone call with a Scooby-Doo ringtone sounding out in the middle of a horror movie, and it flattens the song’s suspense on impact.

Despite the unnecessary clip, “Legion” remains one of the best entries on Possessor, and in contrast with the clarity and gothic charm of “Sigil”, it demonstrates a versatility and aptitude for sound design scarcely shown previously releases from Gost. Many more remarkable moments arrive to close out the album, like the lurching throb of the breaks on “16 A.M.” or the high-speed pace of “Shiloh’s Lament,” which sounds like “Genesee Avenue” in a blender. There’s also another darkwave-inspired composition in “Malum,” though it’s somehow missing the inspired details and endearing qualities that make “Sigil” a success. “Commandment” appropriately closes things out with more distorted, digital echoes of black metal for one of the album’s most intense entries.

Taken together, Possessor is a surprising foray into new musical concepts. In his evolution beyond darksynth and into a hybrid brand of harsh noise, Gost has ironically crafted something much more detailed, engaging, and surprising than anything from his past discography. Compared to the straightforward and overly long compositions of Behemoth that became tedious before they reached their midpoint, Possessor is practically exploding with color and variety. It’s a smorgasbord of raw effects and ideas, arranged together with deceptively careful intent and providing new flavors for the listener’s palate at every turn. Crucially, the execution throughout the recording is meticulous. It may be messy, but it’s an exact and clinical dissection of audio, pulled apart and stitched back together with precision and intent. It’s the murderous work of a surgeon, not a butcher.

The album’s single biggest weakness is Gost’s insistence on including trite voice clips about Christian superstitions. These types of horror-themed clips work well in traditional genres like death metal and electro-industrial, though they feel too literal and commonplace for Possessor’s scorched and broken soundscape. The content of the clips represent paranoid naiveté more than real-world horror, and whether Gost means them to be genuinely frightening or simply a social critique, they feel shallow and distinctly less sophisticated than the carefully calibrated sound art that juxtaposes them. More generally, the album suffers from a certain forgettability, though once again, the value of the recording is in letting it pulverize the eardrums at high volume for 40 minutes, not in whistling its melodies later in the day. Not every song is a success, though the value of the experimentation makes the entire album worthwhile.

The world is filled with synthwave artists, and increasingly, with darksynth artists. Gost’s old stomping grounds have little left to offer him, particularly since his contributions to darksynth are, at least in comparison to the creations of newer producers, relatively bland. What the artist delivers on Possessor is significantly more more valuable and more personal than any retread of his past work could be. There’s no progress without change, and the retro music world needs the occasional conceptual jailbreak like the one represented on Gost’s newest offering.

Possessor is no longer attracted to synthwave, and it isn’t interested in metal. It’s not even particularly fond of the idea of music. The recording is only concerned with old ideas so far as they can propel it onto new creative ground. As with any such unorthodox effort, it asks listeners to make a correspondingly large shift in their approach to it, disregarding old and restrictive labels and listening conventions in the process. Those who accept the undertaking will discover a praiseworthy creation capable of immersing them in its searing, abstract audioscape. Possessor may be the first true incarnation of its kind, but it almost certainly won’t be the last.

Rating: 83 / 100 (Excellent)

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